Small Farmers and Occupy—Engaged?

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December 20, 2011; Huffington Post | Small farmers who have long been fighting monopolies in agribusiness have been very present within the ranks of occupy protestors in this country. Apparently, they have helped provide food to encampments in California, but more recently the alliance has become more obvious on the East Coast, as well.

“Corporate abusers are harming us all,” said David Murphy, founder and president of the nonprofit group Food Democracy Now, who organized the Farmers March that took place in New York in early December and involved 500 rural farmers, urban farmers, food laborers, and community activists.

“The control of policy by agribusiness is the main thing impoverishing small farmers. Wall Street has Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, both of which have bent the laws in their favor. Agriculture has Monsanto, Cargill, and Smithfield. They write the regulations to benefit themselves.”

One participant in the march was Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Grower and Trade Association (OSGTA). OSGTA has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto. “I am here today to let you know that America is broken,” Gerritsen is reported to have said to the crowd. “The corporate control of our government and our economy—and the joblessness that it is creating—is directly related to the corporate dominance of big agriculture and the quality of food that you are getting.”

According to AlterNet:

Monsanto is not the only monopolistic offender—though it is one of the most influential through the extreme prevalence of corn and soybean chemical ingredients in processed foods. Four firms now control 84% of beef packing and 66% of beef production—over the past thirty years, the farming sector has lost over 90% of their pork producers, over 80% of their dairymen, and over 40% of their ranchers. Farmers are being forced into bankruptcy by corporate conglomerates.

Food activists have good reason to look for allies as they prepare to take on the Farm Bill early next year. That bill is scheduled to be amended in 2012, and advocates are focused on limiting subsidies to the big agricultural concerns and inserting incentives for young and beginning farmers.

Murphy believes that there is a good deal of potential alignment between OWS and food activists and small farmers. “[OWS] is really an organic movement,” he said, “so it’s hard to predict what will happen, but we’re not going to win unless we take to the streets.”—Ruth McCambridge